Marathon County falling behind in average compensation for early career dispatchers and correctional officers
WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Marathon County is in the process of finding ways to keep the staff they have, particularly in the 911 dispatch center and the jail. The jobs are difficult to hire as it is, but the county is finding that it is behind other counties and the private sector when it comes to employees who are early in their careers.
“In a number of cases with a number of comparable counties, our staff who we’ll say is a five-year, your typical five-year employee is anywhere from $3-4 below what other counties are paying,” Marathon County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chad Billeb said.
The county uses a pay for performance model, so about 3% of the county’s budget is given to the various departments for them to distribute pay raises based upon a matrix the administration sets up.
“Our goal is always to get people off the bottom as fast as we can, but then that leaves less dollars for people in the middle, and the folks in the middle are not getting to where they need fast enough because dollars are allocated to other places,” he explained.
He said the county has gotten behind on the pay scale compared to other counties as the years have gone on.
The dispatch center has eight open positions currently, though there are three people going through the interview process. The county is adding a full-time position beginning next year to add another 911 line, so if their positions are not filled it will be down nine people.
As of next week, the jail will be down five correctional officers. The jail administrator, Sandra La Du said they start to feel the pinch in tight staffing, especially during the pandemic, when they are down even two officers. She said the impact to inmates is low; though some things may take longer and extra programs they offer sometimes get cut. They have not had to close down a sector, which would impact 46-50 inmates, but they have had to send inmates to other counties both due to staffing and COVID protocols, which costs the county money.
“A lot of times the work and the importance of providing the service is what draws people to this in the first place, but that being said, we have a lot of people who currently are here who are really getting burnt out and so that is when the dollars and the time off and the things like that that are important start to come into play,” La Du said.
Many people retired recently, others went to the private sector, or they found openings in roles that more aligned with their career goals. Over the years the correctional division started several events that gets these behind-the-scenes roles out into the community in a positive way, like the upcoming Shop with a Cop event.
“That is something that our staff get excited about every year,” Billeb said. “So, those types of things definitely help with morale and the culture within the organization, but there comes a time when the cost of living exceeds what our staff and their families can handle and we’re going to lose them and that’s not what we’re willing to risk anymore and we’re trying to come up with solutions to solve that problem.”
Other surrounding counties and around the state are finding the same issues too.
“One of the counties recently had to shut down part of their jail because they didn’t have enough staff, so in turn, that county had to ship inmates to another county,” Nate Dreckman, the Badger State Sheriff’s Association president said.
Racine County recently allocated federal rescue plan money to increase wages by about $3 an hour in these areas, and even more in others in order to stay competitive.
“The issue that we’re running in(to) statewide is this: this is probably the biggest issue when we talk about jailers and that’s the protective status designation in the Wisconsin Retirement System,” Dreckman added.
Billeb mentioned this too. Protective status is written into the state law that allows state correctional officers and probation and parole officers to retire a few years earlier and provides duty disability benefits for officers injured on the job. It does not include county correctional officers, though 13 counties have it in their benefits. It is an item BSSA has been pressing on state legislators to include county correctional officers for years, but it would put the burden of funding those benefits on the county.
While some correctional officers from Marathon County have switched from county correctional jobs to state ones, the Department of Corrections said at least in the region Marathon County sits in, they have not seen a huge increase in correctional officers taking jobs in probation and parole. Though, as Dreckman noted, it would be an added incentive for correctional officers to remain in their county jail if that protective status was in place everywhere.
The Marathon County budget is set for next year, but administrators are working on possible solutions to the pay scale issues they are seeing.
“If we don’t, we have some really difficult decisions to make about how we run our 911 center and how we manage our jail,” Billeb stated.
To find open positions at Marathon County, click here.
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